There are literally thousands of nutrition-related apps that claim they will help you reach specific nutritional goals and/or lose weight. So how do you avoid apps that are mediocre (or worse) and find ones that will truly help you? Bottom Line spoke with registered dietitian Abbie Gellman, RD, who consults with food manufacturers on making more nutritious products—and checked in with several app creators known for their deep nutritional knowledge—to bring you the following five healthy-eating apps that are worthy of your time and will help you meet your nutritional goals…
For the Mindless Eater
MyFitnessPal. If you want to lose weight and you tend to lose track of how much you eat, a food journaling app such as MyFitnessPal is your best choice, says Gellman. With more than six million variations of foods in its database, this app makes it very easy to keep track of how many calories you’re putting into your body. You can enter whole foods or use your smartphone to scan the bar code on packaged items.
That said, your input has to be honest and accurate, especially in terms of your portions, says Gellman. The app will make it apparent if the amounts you’re eating are different from recommended serving sizes from dietary organizations. For example, if you eat two cups of rice for dinner, you’ll see that you’re having four times the amount of a USDA suggested serving…and four times the calories, which will help you understand why your scale isn’t moving in the right direction.
Other helpful features are the reminder setting that will ping you if you forget to enter any of your meals and a robust community of other users to help keep you motivated.
Free with an option to upgrade to premium versions for $9.99/month or $49.99/year, available for Android and iOS
For People with Dietary Restrictions
Substitutions. Grocery stores have become more accommodating to shoppers with a variety of special dietary needs, but it still can be difficult to adapt recipes for people with food allergies and other issues. That’s where this app comes in. It includes a database of 1,300 ingredients and possible substitutions. You can search alphabetically by food or narrow your search by category, such as “Allergy,” “Gluten-Free” or “Vegan.” Just keep in mind that no app is a replacement for any medical guidelines you follow, especially if you have life-threatening allergies, says Gellman. But it’s a helpful way to better enjoy the foods you can eat.
$1.99, available for iOS
For People Who Want to Eat Healthier
FoodSwitch. Launched by the Food Policy Group at The George Institute for Global Health in Australia, this unique app makes it easy to identify the healthier choices among the thousands of competing food products on store shelves. Example: There are thousands of types of chips and hundred of varieties of hot dogs on the market, says Mark Huffman, MD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University and a collaborator on FoodSwitch. To use the app, just scan the bar code on a packaged food with your phone, and the app will provide a “Health Star Rating” of the food (ranging from half a star to five stars) along with a list of healthier choices, if any. The rating is based on the food’s total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content. You also can apply filters if you’re looking to especially cut back on a certain type of ingredient such as salt.
If you find a product that’s not in the app’s 268,000-product database, you’re encouraged to take pictures of the food’s front packaging, nutrition label and ingredient list, and the app will e-mail these pictures to the app developer so that it can be added to the database.
Free, available for Android and iOS
For the Dieter Who Wants Complete Menu Planning
Lifesum. This app’s goal is to personalize your diet plan. It takes into account your height and weight, exercise habits and dietary preferences to give you suggestions. The premise: If you can measure it, you can improve it.
After answering a few quick questions about the foods you crave, weight-loss goals and lifestyle habits such as cooking and grocery shopping, the app will recommend a diet plan complete with recipes, meal planners and shopping lists. The diets include calorie-focused, high protein, ketogenic and more, but you’ll need the premium verson of the app to access these programs.
Free with an option to upgrade to premium versions for $8.99/month or $44.99/year, available for Android and iOS
For the Emotional Eater
Eat Right Now. This science-backed mindfulness app can help you reduce emotional eating by showing you that it is not as out of your control as you might think. For instance, video segments, such as “Do Cravings Last Forever?” help you learn to separate stress from hunger.
There’s also a weekly live video session led by mindfulness and addiction expert Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, a cocreator of the app, and other experts.
Another unique feature is the Want-O-Meter, which is like a panic button when you’re having a craving. Press the button, and the app asks you questions to help you identify what’s causing the craving and then offers solutions to stop it.
This app is considerably more expensive than the others in this roundup, but with features such as online personal coaching from cravings experts and 24/7 help for controlling emotional eating, it may be well worth the price (and is far less expensive than weekly in-person coaching sessions). There’s also a large support community you can join to share experiences. Of course, if you struggle with an eating disorder, talk to your health-care provider about whether this app would be right for you.
$24.99/month, $99/six months, $129.99/year, available for Android and iOS
Note: If you want an app that can help you manage a specific health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, celiac disease, a food allergy or an eating disorder, talk with your health-care professional about apps you’re considering so that together you can choose the best one for you and find the best ways to make it work for your specific needs.